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Is another tech bubble brewing?

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With global technology stocks enjoying strong returns, the big question is whether another tech bubble is brewing? While some market analysts say ‘yes’, GERRIT SMIT, Head of Equity Management at Stonehage Fleming, has a different view.

“The returns being produced in the technology sector are based on real organic growth that is occurring right now; not on the prospect of future growth, which was the case during the dot.com bubble of 1997 to 2001.”

Smit says that many of the major technology businesses are creating significant free cash flow currently, which is funnelled to shareholders through successful reinvestment or through dividends.  “This is an important cornerstone of prudent, successful investing.  Without free cash flow, shareholders have more uncertainty of future returns.”

During the dot.com bubble the free cash flow yield on the S&P 500 technology sector was less than 2%. Currently that figure is 4.9%, a ratio of more than double. Furthermore, the 12 month forward P/E multiple in the dot.com bubble era was around 40, whereas now it is 19. “In both instances the valuations are half as expensive now as they were then.”

In addition to strong free cash flow, Smit sees strong, sustainable, organic growth potential in many technology stocks, notably large-cap counters. This is the second reason that Stonehage Fleming’s Global Best Ideas Equity Fund, which Smit manages, is nearly 30% invested in major cash generating technology companies.

In the current technology world, the focus is on big data and getting information as fast as possible to as many as possible all over the world through smart mobile devices. While Apple recently launched its new smartphone with a price tag of US$999, both India and China are producing models with comparable technology priced around US$100. This is making mobile technology and its many benefits accessible to more individuals than ever before, creating a sustainable growth path for well-managed companies that distribute their products through mobile technology.

In the technology sector the clear way to monitor whether a company remains to be relevant is to follow its organic revenue growth. If this doesn’t come through consistently, it implies that their technology is falling out of favour and the business may be in process of becoming extinct.

In terms of individual technology stocks, the fund has positions in, Visa, Tencent, Alphabet, Accenture and PayPal. “Tencent is one of the world’s most successful technology companies,” Smit says.

Using the metric of organic growth as a benchmark, Tencent reported in their last earnings announcement that their revenue line grew by over 50%. In addition, their compounded free cash flow growth over the past four years was over 33% per annum.

Smit says Tencent’s strength lies in having a number of different earnings drivers.  Its social network business WeChat alone has over 900 million active users.  Both a social media and messaging app, WeChat is also used for mobile e-commerce, payments, ordering food, taxis and more. Furthermore, Tencent has a stake in JD.com, China’s version of Amazon, and in Didi, the country’s version of Uber. “Importantly, we are also comfortable with Tencent’s overall corporate governance,” Smit says.

Turning to Visa, Smit says this technology giant supplies the platform on which all Visa transactions globally occur. Its growth potential is based on the fact that payments, whether consumer, corporate or institutional, occur more and more online.  The mushrooming of e-commerce is adding further fuel to the company’s growth potential.

Alphabet is another outstanding business, Smit says. As the holding company of Google, Android and YouTube, it is also very active in AI, driverless cars and satellite communications; Alphabet’s free cash flow growth has exceeded 17% per annum over the last four years.

Recently, assets under management (AUM) in the Stonehage Fleming Global Best Ideas Equity Fund passed the US$650 million mark. The fund, which attracts investments from private, professional and institutional investors has returned 47.2%* over the last four years, compared to MSCI World All Countries Index of 39.0%.

Smit runs this concentrated, high conviction portfolio of 24 stocks that are chosen for their sustainable growth potential, strong management, strategic competitive edge and attractive valuation. The portfolio has very low turnover: over the past 12 months Gerrit has only sold two positions and initiated one.

In addition to the high weighting in technology stocks, other investments include some of the world’s best known companies such as Nestle, Estée Lauder and PepsiCo where there is confidence in the sustainability for indefinite growth rather than volatile cyclical growth.

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Wannacry still alive

One and a half years after its epidemic, WannaCry ransomware tops the list of the most widespread cryptor families and the ransomware has attacked 74,621 unique users worldwide.

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These attacks accounted for 28.72% of all users targeted by cryptors in Q3 2018. The percentage has risen over the last year, demonstrating more than two thirds growth against Q3 2017, when its share in cryptor attacks was 16.78%. This is just one of the main findings from Kaspersky Lab’s Q3 IT threat evolution report. 

A series of cyberattacks with WannaCry cryptor occurred in May 2017 and is still considered to be one of the biggest ransomware epidemics in history. Even though Windows released a patch for its operating system to close the vulnerability exploited by EternalBlue 2 months prior to the start of the attacks, WannaCry still affected hundreds of thousands devices around the globe. As cryptors do, WannaCry turned files on victims’ computers into encrypted data and demanded ransom for decryption keys (created by threat actors to decipher the files and transform them back into the original data) making it impossible to operate the infected device.

The consequences of the WannaCry epidemic were devastating: as the victims were mainly organisations with networked systems – the work of businesses, factories and hospitals was paralysed. Even though this case demonstrated the dangers cryptors pose, and most of PCs around the world have been updated to resist the EternalBlue exploit, the statistics show that criminals still try to exploit those computers that weren’t patched and there are still plenty of them around the globe.

Overall, Kaspersky Lab security solution protected 259,867 unique users from cryptors attacks, showing a substantial rise of 39% since Q2 2018, when the figure was 158,921. The growth was rapid yet steady, with a monthly observed increase in the number of users.

The rising share of WannaCry attacks is another reminder that epidemics don’t end as fast as they start – there are always long-running consequences. In the case of cryptors, attacks can be so severe that it is necessary to take preventive measures and patch the device, rather than deal with encrypted files later,” said Fedor Sinitsyn, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.

 To reduce the risk of infection by WannaCry and other cryptors, users are advised to:

  • Always update your operating system to eliminate recent vulnerabilities and use a robust security solution with updated databases. It is also important to use the security solution that has specialised technologies to protect your data from ransomware, as Kaspersky Lab’s solutions do. Even if the newest yet unknown malware does manage to sneak through, Kaspersky Lab’s System Watcher technology is able to block and roll back all malicious changes made on a device, including the encryption of files.
  • If you have bad luck and all your files are encrypted with cryptomalware, it is not recommended to pay cybercriminals, as it encourages them to continue their dirty business and infect more people’s devices. It is better to find a decryptor on the Internet – some of them are available for free here: https://noransom.kaspersky.com/

·         It is also important to always have fresh backup copies of your files to be able to replace them in case they are lost (e.g. due to malware or a broken device), and store them not only on the physical object but also in cloud storage for greater reliability (don’t forget to protect your cloud storage with strong hack-proof password!)

·         If you’re a business, enhance your preferred third-party security solution with the newest version of the free Kaspersky Anti-Ransomware Tool.

·         To protect the corporate environment, educate your employees and IT teams, keep sensitive data separate, restrict access, and always back up everything.

·         Use a dedicated security solution, such as Kaspersky Endpoint Security for Business that is powered by behaviour detection and able to roll back malicious actions. It should also include Vulnerability and Patch management features that automatically eliminates vulnerabilities and installs updates. This reduces the risk of vulnerabilities in popular software being used by cybercriminals.

·         Last, but not least, remember that ransomware is a criminal offence. You shouldn’t pay. If you become a victim, report it to your local law enforcement agency.

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Nokia 6.1 gets slice of Pie

HMD Global has announced that the Nokia 6.1 will start receiving Android 9 Pie – the second smartphone in the portfolio to receive the latest version of Android less than a month after the update arrived on the Nokia 7 plus.

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Packed with Google’s newest software and building on the features of Android 8.0 Oreo, Android 9 Pie’s focus on artificial intelligence and machine learning gives owners a more customised and tailored experience.

Powered by the Qualcomm Snapdragon 630 Mobile Platform, the Nokia 6.1 is over 60% faster than its predecessor. Also, now offering enhanced Dual-Sight, ZEISS optics, USB-C fast-charging, Nokia spatial audio and pure, secure and up-to-date Android Oreo.

The Nokia 6.1 has been selected by Google to join the Android One family and therefore users get exclusive access to Apps Actions – a feature only available to Android One and Google Pixel devices.  App Actions helps users get things done faster by predicting their next move and displaying the right action on right away.

Now with Android 9 Pie, the Nokia 6.1’s already impressive battery life is further complimented with the introduction of Adaptive Battery, an update that uses deep learning to understand usage patterns and prioritise battery power on the most important apps.

Other key features of Android 9

·       Slices – Identifies relevant information on favourite apps to make them more easily accessible when needed

·       Adaptive Brightness – Automatically adapts phone brightness by learning from interactions with different settings

·       New system navigation – Features a single home button that provides intelligent predictions and suggestions (user enabled)

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